Morgan Stanley recruits Betterment exec to beef up digital strategy

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Morgan Stanley has recruited a top executive from the industry's leading independent robo-adviser as part of its effort to expand digital services for customers and financial advisers.

Former Betterment Chief Marketing Officer Paul Halpern has joined as head of deposits and banking services for the Morgan Stanley Private Banking Group, the bank said.

“Paul is a talented financial services executive who has a strong background in full-service, financial-adviser-centric business models," Eric Heaton, head of Morgan Stanley’s Private Banking Group, said in a press release Tuesday. "He has first-hand knowledge of the primary importance of the financial adviser in serving the broad requirements of clients."

Halpern will be tasked with the development of digital banking products and solutions, as well as working with financial advisers on client engagement, the bank said. He will coordinate with Paul Vienick, head of Morgan Stanley online/mobile and digital banking, and report to Heaton.

“Having experienced a range of different models, it’s clear that the future of wealth management is the combination of industry-leading technology and world-class personalized financial advice, and Morgan Stanley is strongly positioned to deliver this unique combination of value to their clients," Halpern said in the release.

To keep pace with its peers, including JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley is ramping up its digital offerings in banking and wealth management.

Morgan Stanley Access Investing, the firm's robo solution aimed primarily at young investors, launched in December.

It is also embedding digital service into its adviser workforce.

Under a revamp of its training program, a third of trainees would be taught a digital-first approach to the work. Those advisers-to-be then would be deployed to branches and help veteran brokers learn the firm's burgeoning suite of tech tools.

The bank also plans to hire hundreds of digital adviser associates, a newly created position.

Hiring Halpern will bring digital upstart experience to the bank's evolving services, one industry observer noted.

"If you think about what Betterment did that was really different, it was in the digital user experience," said Joel Bruckenstein, founder of the Technology Tools for Today conference.

"They made things easier to use, they delivered they type of information in a way that was easy for people absorb," Bruckenstein said. "A lot of same design principles that apply to the retail experience, apply to the adviser experience too."

For Betterment, the leading independent robo-adviser with over $14 billion in assets under management, Halpern is the latest in a slow trickle of top talent in the past six months.

In March, Chief Financial Officer Amy Shapero left Betterment after less than two years in the role to join the e-commerce platform provider Shopify.

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